Monetary gifts for family
December 10, 2016 7:03 AM   Subscribe

This has been a rough year for our family, and several people have had to deal with extended medical problems, including hospitalizations. We have helped in many ways, including making substantial financial gifts. We are fortunate in that we have the money, and it is not a hardship for us. The problem is that I can't help worrying about family dynamics.

For example, we had given one family member a loan a year or so ago (for a down payment), which they are paying back slowly and responsibly. But recently we gave another family member a similar amount as a gift, since it was an emergency, and we didn't want them to worry about paying it back. So to each according to their need, I guess? I'm concerned that we'll cause resentment if we're not exactly fair, though life is clearly not fair.

I don't want us to be the resident moneybags, but at this point, we are by far best positioned to help. So far, all of this is coming from us, we don't expect anything in return (including excessive gratitude), and it doesn't seem to be causing trouble. It's also in the back of my mind that, with the family being the way it is, if we needed help, it would not come back to us the same way. But we don't need it to, so I'm not sure why I'm thinking of that.

I would like to hear stories from people who have given quite a bit of money to family members (other than their children). I'm interested in hearing about how you successfully managed any emotional or social issues that came up or anything that didn't go well. I would accept links to blogs or other people's stories or advice/ resources as well.
posted by oryelle to Human Relations (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I gave some pretty significant amounts of money to my siblings last year, after some good fortune on my end. I ended up giving different amounts to different people according to their need as I saw it. I basically just mentioned briefly that I gave different amounts in each of the individual notes to my siblings, just so that there wouldn't be any hard feelings if they discussed the gifts.

My family has always been pretty reasonable about money matters and nobody had any serious money issues at the time, as far as I was aware. I suppose your mileage may vary, but in my case, the gifts were well-received and nobody has asked for more or behaved in any way that implies entitlement. I talked to my parents beforehand and cleared the idea with them, and I think it was valuable to run it by an interested 3rd party, so to speak.
posted by tybstar at 7:32 AM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

My father is my role model for all of these issues. He was a trusts and estates lawyer so he was very aware of all the things that can go wrong for well-meaning people who are trying to help with money. One thing he said repeatedly is that people will have no problems asking for/accepting all kinds of help that takes up your time and energy, as long as it's not financial. With that there be issues.

His position when offering financial help was always "I'm glad to be able to help. You're making me happy by asking." He actually supported a family we were friends with after the husband left, to the point where it affected our budget-- he paid college tuitions, and some professional school for the mother-- and there were no problems I was aware of. A lot of that was probably luck, and grace on the part of the recipients. It takes a real friend to admit what they need and accept it in the spirit it's given.

I really like what tybstar says about telling everyone what you are doing, and why. In your situation, comparisons will be made. As far as other resources, this is kind of in the neighborhood of estate planning, I think, and you might find a lot more by thinking of it that way. If you have a financial planner they may have some thoughts too. They will certainly have dealt with this stuff.
posted by BibiRose at 7:45 AM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

You could always forgive the loan for the down payment and make it more "fair," right? But if you don't want to, then that's fine. Maybe put all of the repayment in a separate account and keep that option open.

It is also smart to think about your own financial health and the financial health of your immediate family in the future, which is how I see your concern about not getting the same help back. By their nature, unpredictable financial events are unpredictable---and you might be feeling a twinge of worry about whether you should be prioritizing your own financial security a little more. It is somewhat disconcerting to me that you reference down-payment amounts of money as being something you don't have to worry about. Obviously, this depends on the housing market in the area you're in, but when gifts start running to $10k or more that does not strike me as something one can simply not worry about as though it were pocket change, especially given that you have no family backstop. You are, in fact, the family backstop---so it might be worth thinking deliberately about being more conservative about what and how you give, so that you can be sure to be in a position to give in the future (or keep yourself from preventable financial hardship).
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:18 AM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

A loan we made is being paid back. We've put the repayments in a separate savings account to be used for cash gifts or loans. We haven't shared that information with the person making the repayments, or anyone else actually. Whatever amount is in that account is the amount we're willing to loan/give as the situation calls for. We really don't want to be the bank.

You're a good person to be there for the people you love. I encourage you to put a dollar limit in place for available money. It's easier to say, I'm sorry we don't have it to lend/give than, I don't think that's a worthy reason.
posted by toastedbeagle at 9:04 AM on December 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think the loan on a house (which I consider a bit of a want instead of a need, but of course I don't know if rental apartments just aren't a thing where you live) is different from money for a (medica?) emergency, so I think it's fine that you gifted the money to those in dire need.
If people complain that you gifted to one party and not the other, that would be pretty ungracious. It's one thing for a parent to financially differentiate one child from another, but that 's not the case here, as you say.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 9:18 AM on December 10, 2016

I grew up poor in a big family. As a young adult I bought my siblings items like computers, used furniture, bedding, anything they needed that I could help with until they started working and moved out, and then when I needed to buy a car but with no budget for it two of my siblings gave me the money for it with no questions asked. I will pay them back for the car when I can, so far no issues, I bring up what I owe and they remind me they are doing fine and don't need it currently, and I half-jokingly remind them that the car will be running great in a few years and if I really can't pay them back and they need the funds I will sell the car/give it to them because they still own the majority of it.

The same siblings paid another sibling's higher interest student loans so that the recipient could kill it quicker, and as far as I know it hasn't caused problems and it has allowed that sibling to get out of debt and get things under control a few years faster.

I see what we have done for one another as what a lot of people experience when they grow up with more affluent parents where it would be more normal to get help buying a car or paying for school.

I think issues are more common when the situation isn't going to change and the family member will continue to need help because their situation isn't sustainable, and they expect to continue receiving support and doing so would create a burden for you.
posted by lafemma at 12:33 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

>Sometimes I think the asking and the giving of the actual money is the most fraught. Of someone is in a bind to where they actually ask, repayment on a loan actually can preserve self respect. If you see it as a gift, that leaves you with no disappointment. Sometimes it could be a generous act to quietly pay up some part of a medical bill without mention. My friend's sister has called 'repeatedly for emergencies', late mortgage payments and overdue medical bills. Then she calls because the house is being repoed and there's a judgment. Not answering where the bailout money went. My friend loves her sister, but won't enable her. The sis called in tears--the car's broke down, I'm going to loose my job, needs $2000. Friend says, "Give me the name of the mechanic shop and the estimate. I'll take care of it directly". *crickets* Don't be an enabler. Don't set yourself up to be the family bank. Ask for non-financial help from family members that is actually helpful to you. Maybe Bob's a plumber, or Anne has mad comuter skills to build you a webpage. You might be able to pay someone, but it makes for reciprocal relationship to ask for help. Just don't do it when you don't appreciate what they can do to help. That smacks of condescending. And you never know, the wheel can turn, what goes around...
posted by BlueHorse at 4:39 PM on December 10, 2016

I think the most fraught thing is where you have loan forgivenesses for one family member and lack of forgiveness for another family member. That is the kind of thing that can cause resentment- it feels like things are unequal, and often it feels like the more responsible person suffers.

Large gifts were often thrown around in my family and it was never a big deal until one person was asked to pay a loan back while the other person was not. While those people still have a good relationship with the lender, they do not have a good relationship with each other.
posted by corb at 7:33 PM on December 10, 2016

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